SHOOT AND ARTICLE WERE PRINTED IN THE SUNDAY INDEPENDENT’S LIFE MAGAZINE ON AUGUST 21ST 2016
A life without alcohol: That sentence used to cause such turmoil and internal panic I would go and drink.
Sounds stupid or maybe even funny to some of you but in reality for a lot of us the thought of “forever” (sober) can be and is quite scary.
Anyway I needed drink to chat to people, for confidence, to have a personality, to be creative, to have friends, to be accepted and my job revolved around it. I would use it to take the edge off, to cope with a tough day. I would drink to reward myself after I had worked hard or worked out or just because it was Friday or Monday or lunchtime or after work! We drink to celebrate weddings, christenings, birthdays, births and deaths so as you can see there is always a reason to have a drink.
When a reason didn’t present itself I would make it up. I could convince you pretty easily that black was white or vice versa. That’s the thing with addiction it tells you lies and you repeat those lies to anyone who will listen. Addiction rips you apart at your soul level, the very essence of your being dies. Using becomes a way of being happy or at least happier than being sober which is not hard.
Overall it’s a vicious cycle that lures you in with false promises of fun and spits you out with nothing: no self esteem, broken relationships, arguments, memory loss, lost belongings, wasted days, anxiety and depression.
Today I am celebrating eighteen months of sobriety. They are words I never expected to say and mean, after all I had tried so many times before. They are words that have taken me this long to write for fear that I might drink again. The past few weeks have really tested my sobriety like never before. James was in a near drowning accident on holidays and then our luggage and belongings were stolen on the way to the airport in Spain. But the real truth is that my sobriety will always be tested by something called life everyday if I let it, as life is challenging at the best of times. Learning to live in the real world with out crutches to lean on is really the biggest challenge of all.
For most of my life I numbed myself with drink. It was easy I was a model and partying was more normal than not partying. I was in pain and it was my pain relief. I suffered from depression and anxiety from an early age and during my teen years just getting up could be a struggle. I didn’t think this was unusual though as I thought everyone had to give themselves a good push to get through the day.
When I started experimenting with drink it was blissful. I felt high and alive and all my cares and troubles just faded away. The next day was always horrible but then again my days could be horrible anyway so the high was worth it. Very often I was the one being carried home from discos and nightclubs and I would spend the next 24 hours throwing up and laughing about it with friends. We’d joke about how many shots we could drink and boast about our alcohol intake like it was a measure of our madness and the madder you were the better.
‘Party Ali” became a real identity. ‘Invite Ali she’s great fun and she’ll stay out with you all night.” I was never short of friends or invitations when I was abroad modeling and it was glamourized to such an extent that it was completely normal to drink all the time – at lunchtime, on catalogue trips and backstage at shows. The industry today is vastly different to 20 years ago. Back then it was a case of anything goes!
I would have regular blackouts and although they terrified me in the beginning I’m ashamed to say I got used to them. As I got older they began to scare me, no terrify me. I lived in New Your City by myself and there were mornings I wouldn’t remember where I was or whom I was out with. I was too embarrassed to ring around and I would sit nervously waiting for a message from one of my friends that might shine a light on the night before.
I tried to stop many times and succeeded for days, weeks and even months at a time. I periodically fooled myself and I fooled those around me. I got angry when anyone commented on my lifestyle and defended it at all costs after all everyone else was doing it too. I sat in AA for years listening to other people’s stories but I was still in denial. “I’m not as bad as them” I would think and go out and get wasted again, not remembering where I was or how I got home again. It is a miracle I am here today. I lived in constant fear of having to live in the real world with real feelings. I had never done it and I didn’t know how.
I constantly tried to play the balance game and I didn’t fit the stereotype of someone with a drinking problem (whatever that is!!). I could stop for months at a time and not drink during the week but I had to ask myself was I controlling my drinking or was my drinking controlling me?
Every morning I would wake up and look in the mirror and hate what was staring back at me. I always felt dirty and guilty. I was a pro at faking it. It didn’t affect my looks enough for me to stop as maybe if it had I would have stopped sooner. I got away with it you see, I was able to party, go to work and pull of a great shoot and then go home to die. I prided myself on never ever missing a day’s work until one day I did and then it happened again. I slept it out on a number of occasions or should I say passed out and didn’t wake up.
I remember my mum and her cousin coming to visit me in New York and I went missing for a day and night partying. She was sick with worry, as a girl had been murdered on 84th and Central Park West, one block from me!! But it wasn’t the first time I had acted so selfishly and done this. I promised never to do it again and I would argue with stupid things like I was only having fun and I was with good people. As a mother myself now I can only imagine the pain and worry I caused my mum through the years and I can still remember her sad face, it is etched into my memory forever.
I lost my dad 17 years ago but even back then he knew there were warning signs and he often cursed my job choice and asked me to sit down for a chat. He told me if I ever felt things were a bit out of control and I needed help that I could always come to him. The irony being that when I lost him I drank more than ever before to help get me through it.
For me alcohol was like staying in a bad relationship. There were many warning signs early on but I ignored them. Passing out, blackouts, hospital visits our relationship survived them all. “Wow you can drink a lot,” people would say, “it must be because you are Irish.” Living abroad this was like a badge of honor. The more I drank the more I needed to drink and this is the danger.
I would drink to cope with anxiety especially in social situations and in the short term this worked but the next day was filled full of fear and regrets for money spent and the embarrassing things I did and said. I ended up in relationships with enablers who told me I had a problem but then happily poured alcohol down my neck when they wanted to drink themselves.
When I became a mum I thought I had figured things out after all I only had the odd glass of wine during my pregnancy so I obviously didn’t have a problem and then I breastfed too with no drink but it crept back up slowly in fact it had probably never gone away. A glass of wine was used to take the edge off in the evening, to cope with a stressful day, to help me socialize and enjoy dinners but most of all it was used to help me escape. But behind the façade I was a scared, single mum who was lonely and drink was my friend.
But it was a friendship based on secrets and lies. It robbed me of my dignity, self-esteem, health and happiness. I finally decided I wanted to be fully present in my life as I was exhausted escaping and piecing things back together the day after the night before.
I was sick of having the fear, sick of punishing myself, sick of trying to feel better but only succeeding in feeling worse. Overall I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
My journey into true sobriety however was only beginning and I began to realise that when life happened which it does every second of every day I had no crutch and I actually had to feel feelings and work through my problems.
There were days I used to long for just a glass of wine in the evening to take the edge off or to destress. I needed a blowout once in a while people kept telling me but this time for the first time in 20 years I didn’t and haven’t since. I spent a year changing my thought patterns or the brainwashing that I have had for my whole life, Jason Vales book Kick the Drink Easily is a horrifying look at the truth about our real relationship with alcohol. I now know that a blow out would only put me back where I started and I’m trying to move forward.
I never truly thought I could break the cycle through the years so I tried to control it but deep down I was scared that this was bigger than me. I regularly cried, beating myself up for being such a weak loser. Annoyed and guilty that I couldn’t just be normal and have a drink and a chat and go home. It’s a vicious cycle of self abuse, low self esteem and getting wasted to escape that but in the end I always ended up in tears at 3AM regularly crying in nightclubs and never wanting to go home. I was a complete nightmare to be out with.
As the years went on my friends became impatient and annoyed. Once I had one there was no talking to me they said and I wanted to party until the bitter end. I told myself it was ok as it only happened once a month but that soon moved to once a week and then the girls were calling in for a glass of wine in the evening. They could stop at one but I couldn’t. The few weeks before I gave up were a mess. I went away with my friend Karen and again went missing to a party. She was so worried but her kindness and compassion in helping me to confront my drinking has helped to stay sober and that goes for all my true friends.
In the beginning I was a hot topic of conversation, which killed me and I would hear all the gossip back, you always do. “Give her time and she’ll fall spectacularly off the wagon and end up in Lillie’s”, “She won’t survive Christmas” These same people tried to hug and kiss me when I met them at work events and they were killed trying to tell me how proud they were. I learnt a lot about people last year. I learnt a lot about friendship, truth and honesty. I was lucky enough to be studying and writing a book in 2015 because let me tell you the phone never rang. Every single time I went out all anyone talked about was my drinking.
I have spent the past few years working hard on myself and it’s a daily job but worth every second. My unexpected pregnancy six years ago not only humbled me but it gave me a life, a real life where I now understand that all we have is right here right now. James forced me to be present, to heal and to dig deep to a really scary place I would probably never have visited otherwise. I peeled off the very painful layers that I have covered up with years of addiction and pain.
I feel things now I don’t numb them and as hard as that is sometimes it’s necessary. I was so scared like a frightened child afraid of everything. What will I say to people, how will I stand, where will my confidence come from and will I have a personality without party Ali?
The truth is it’s damn hard in the beginning, like becoming a baby again helpless and vulnerable learning to crawl and then walk. Not long after I gave up drink I was at the VIP style awards and my friend Karen came with me for support. To the outside world I was in great form but inside I was crumbling with anxiety. As we sat at the table I took a massive anxiety attack, my legs were like jelly, my palms were sweating and I felt like I was going to have a heart attack and pass out.
Karen talked me through it quietly telling me I had been here before and I knew it was anxiety and that I would get through it. It took her about 30 minutes of talking me around and then she said the last award is over, lets get up and leave. I did and when I got into my car I fell apart and said I can’t do this but Karen said yes you can the worst is behind you and next time will be easier. She was right the next time was easier and the time after that.
It’s incredibly important to surround yourself with people who love and support you. It is one of the most important things you can do for your confidence, self-belief and health and wellbeing on your journey.
[bctt tweet=”Deep down I had always known that the road to giving up someday leads to a town called nowhere.” username=”alicanavan”]
I have always been a spiritual soul seeker and my life had been running on parallel lines for many years. I have been meditating since my late teens and attending retreats all over the world with many great masters and teachers but my lifestyle would pull me back in and I wanted to fit in.
I never thought it was possible to feel good naturally but now I feel more alive each day than I ever have before. I wake up every day with a heart full of gratitude and appreciation for what I have and who I have become. I’m excited for my future and for what lies ahead and I feel free. I do believe James was my angel and the catalyst that really started my true inward journey of healing but what I realized along the way was that you have to make these decisions for yourself. Not for your parents, partners, children or friends, YOU. You must find that place deep inside of you that knows you are worthy and worth it. This takes time, patience, hard work and perseverance.
[bctt tweet=”You must find that place deep inside of you that knows you are worthy and worth it” username=”alicanavan”]
Loving yourself is not vain or egotistical it’s an essential part of living a happy and fulfilled life. When you fill your tank and engine with kindness, compassion and love for yourself you have so much more to give to others.
I no longer beat myself up and I can’t believe the way I spoke to myself for so many years. I have a rule now and I try and catch myself when I start a negative rant. I think, to myself would I say this to a friend? If the answer is no then I try not to say these things to myself. I’ve learnt that if I wanted my life to be better then I needed to step up to the plate, show up and bring a better me to the table each day.
I’ve also learnt to stop the blame game because I wanted to grow, face myself and live a happy life. Blame to me is not taking responsibility for your own path and your own destiny. I was always blaming my mood or actions on what someone else said or did but in reality I am the only one with that power. We’re all a bit like junkies looking for our next fix from life and when things don’t go our way we blame everything and everyone around us but rarely do we look within and work with ourselves.
We keep looking for balance in an imbalanced culture by doing things like drinking too much to take the edge off and then taking painkillers in the morning to get up and get through our day. Then we go on cleanses, retreats and holidays to fix us but they don’t because real wellness is a daily job and something that needs to be worked on everyday.
What I have learnt since becoming sober is that professionally and personally I have soared. I sleep better and I’m in control of every aspect of my life. I feel things now and although it’s uncomfortable at times I also feel the depth and feeling of positive emotions too. I’m more present in my every day life and I now know that you don’t have to drink to have fun. I’ve discovered I have a personality without alcohol and the clarity in my life is incredible.
I’ve learnt that being happy comes when you realize how extraordinary the ordinary things in your life are and that without inner peace and contentment you have nothing in this life. The richest man will still be poor.
Now I have so much light in my life I feel free. Every day I can live without feeling like I’m drowning or pushing against the tide. To all addicts out there I never thought I could do it but it is possible. It tore me apart; I was emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. I was waking around dead most days. I covered up my feelings of unworthiness and low self esteem for years with alcohol but no more. I now have freedom, passion and a life without chains.
I am only ever a very small step away from addiction and I have accepted that with grace. Today I feel free, blessed and incredibly grateful. I am a work in progress and always will be as we all are. On my card for my book launch my sister Laura wrote “strong, sober and published author” Each one of those words are words I never thought would be used to describe me but we are all capable of so much more than we imagine.
Everyday I wake up and say Thank you. Then I meditate and write in my gratitude journal. As our brains are primitive and primed for survival and not happiness, happiness is our job and one I take very seriously. I have many great daily happiness habits that work for me.
Meditation and mindfulness are certainly having their moments but I would really urge you to not view them as a temporary fad because in my opinion they need to become a natural part of our day exactly like eating or drinking.
We are moving too fast and it’s coming at a high cost for us both personally and professionally. We are distracted, uneasy, unhappy, unsettled, anxious, depressed and ungrateful. We live in a world of instant gratification wanting more and more, quicker and quicker than ever before. Round and round we go, getting dizzy from the craziness that’s called modern life.
But how do we start to change this pattern, this endless cycle that we can’t seem to break free from?
We must train ourselves to slow down and even stop at times throughout our day. I now write myself a prescription for life to replace all those pills and prescriptions from years before. It goes something like this
Check in with yourself
Live with Joy
Move your body
Laugh with friends and
My life lessons have been vast and in very different settings and very much outside of what we consider the norm but if I can change my life anyone can and today if you ask me do I believe in miracles I would say yes I do because I’m living one and I’m sober.